In a post called “Dear Hollywood, It’s Time to Start Making Films About Real Black Nuns” for the website For Harriet, Shannen Dee Williams writes about the history of black women in the Catholic Church. With the news of a rebooted Sister Act movie, Williams challenges the portrayal of the sisterhood in the film with the truth shown in her research.
In the article, Williams writes:
Many black sisters in white congregations also endured intense pressure to deny and degrade their racial heritage in order to feel accepted by their communities. Some even admitted to praying to become white in order to stop the incessant bullying and racist name calling of their white counterparts. As Sister of the Blessed Sacrament Christine Nesmith aptly put it in 1971,
“Entering an order meant ceasing to be black and looking on what you grew up with as uncouth. You could do the Irish jig, but anything African was taboo.”
Such abuse and the prolonged intractability of white supremacy in female religious life eventually drove scores of black sisters out their communities in the late 1960s and 1970s, decimating their already marginal national population. While some black sisters left on their own accord or defected in explicit protest to racial discrimination, many others in temporary vows were summarily dismissed from their communities as a result of their political activism and willingness to testify publicly about their experiences of racist and sexist abuse in the church. Consequently, black sisters in white congregations (whether they persevered or not) routinely have been subject to historical erasure, marginalization, and myth-making.